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The last man standing - just!
The astonishing victory of Tiger Woods in the US Open at Torrey Pines had two old friends amazed at the risk he had taken

Captain Horatio Reilly-Ffoulle and Lieutenant Commander John St John Pharte, CDM & Bar, RN (Retired) had only just recovered fromtheir late night sojourns watching the United States Open Championship unfold when news came in that the winner, TigerWoods, had played through the championship with stress fractures in his left leg, torn cartilage in his knee and a distinct possibility of other debilitating physical woes.

St John Pharte had a fellow officer and friend whom he’d served with for a number of years, primarily in the Far East. He was a surgeon commander, specialising in stresses, strains and amputations. On hearing the news that Tiger would most likely not be playing any more competitive golf for the rest of 2008, St John was on the phone in an effort to discover what the actual meaning was of the medical jargon that had been put out on Tiger’s behalf.

It wasn't too long before he had all the knowledge available. He couldn't wait to get back to Reilly-Ffoulle. They selected a couple of comfy chairs in the corner of the club bar and summoned the ever faithful Gammon to bring them two very large pink gins.

“Well, what do you think of that?” said St John.

“Quite remarkable,” replied the Captain. “He must have been in considerable pain, having those stress fractures in his leg and not knowing if they might snap. It must have been tremendously stressful, although I didn't see any signs of him easing up on any of his full-blooded drives or shots from that punishing rough.”

“Quite, quite” said St. John. “A remarkable performance. I've been speaking to my old colleague, Aloysius Trumpington. Remember, we served for a number of years out in the Far East? Surgeon Commander, good egg. He simplified Tiger's condition as best he could, saying it was rather like having a favourite teacup which had a hairline fracture down the side. It might last for generations but then, perhaps, one day you’d lift it to your lips and it would simply break in half, pouring hot tea (or whatever) on your delicate nether regions. Of course, this hasn’t been the first time Tiger has had this sort of surgery. Trumpington said that every time you make an entry in order to effect an operation, no matter how small it may be, you go through the ‘good stuff’ to get at the problem and you can do more damage. There's always a risk involved.”

Reilly-Ffoulle was not totally convinced. “Are you telling me he went round the course with the distinct possibility of snapping a bone at any moment?”

“Exactly,” replied St John Pharte.

“Well,” continued the Captain, “if he knew that, he was either very brave or very silly.”

He played on through pain but what lasting damage might Woods
have done to his knee?

St John mentioned the time he was standing on the 9th tee at Royal Birkdale in 1991, watching a certain promising young man with flowing blond hair by the name of Richard Boxall, who took an enormous swipe at his tee shot and suddenly collapsed, screaming in pain. He'd fractured his left leg with one of the worst sorts of injury possible – the experts called it something like a spiral fracture. The bone didn't snap but it twisted, causing tremendous pain and damage. Boxall was in no state to continue and, indeed, it took several months for the injury to heal, after which he was never quite the same again.

What will Tiger be like when he does return, wondered St John? There's an old saying that “you have to compete to be competitive”. It’s a truly remarkable person who can take weeks, nay months off and, when re-entering the ‘arena’, he doesn’t have even greater heart palpitations and sweaty palms than normal because the competitive brain has, in a way, forgotten what the heat of battle was like. But then, Tiger Woods is a truly remarkable person. He proved that much at Torrey Pines. Still, you would imagine that even he would want at least a couple of warm-up events before the 2009 Masters.

All that aside, the two old chums were agreed on one thing. The 2008 US Open had, once again, shown up the shortcomings of Tiger’s nearest challengers. On the final day, the best score was a 65. There were a couple of 67s and two or three other players were under 70, but none of his prospective challengers managed to better par. He gave them a chance (as he has done many times before) but they weren’t up to it. And, invariably, he produced a magical shot when it was most needed. His playoff opponent, Rocco Mediate, a wily old pro, had to be congratulated on his week’s efforts and it would have been romantic had he won – surely there were many people who would have liked David once more to beat Goliath?

But that wasn't to be, and the incredible talent that is Tiger Woods moves on, ready for another chapter of his amazing life to unfold.

August 2008

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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